Two years ago, Capcom struck surprising gold with its umpteenth Resident Evil video game. 2017’s Resident Evil 7 was the spark the aging series needed, particularly after RE5 and RE6 threw out the series’ best ideas, and it proved that Capcom still knew how to deliver familiar chills without making things boring.
The game’s success put Capcom in an odd conundrum. How the heck does it follow such a quality surprise? The answer is an apparent stopgap: Resident Evil 2, a deliberate remake of the 1998 classic Playstation hit.
The result is honestly everything you might want from a triple-A game launching in the slow month of January. RE2 is a modern Resident Evil game: behind-the-shoulder action, smooth controls, gorgeous visuals, masterfully staged atmosphere, ridiculous entrails, and true surprises. RE2 is also a classic Resident Evil game: cheesy dialogue, tight corridors, police-station environs, lumbering zombies, and simple puzzles that rely on item fetching and backtracking.
Authenticity isn’t the issue, then, but rather how much of that authenticity you can stomach two decades later. Does a popcorn-muncher of a horror film sequel sound fun, in which you accept yet another return to summer camp or the creepy suburbs in exchange for new twists on familiar scares? RE2 does the same thing for video games by marrying memorable moments, tried-and-tiring mechanics, and a return trip to the Raccoon City Police Department.
Familiar sights, rendered anew
The zombies are back. It’s Umbrella Corporation’s fault. Two easily startled young people—one rookie cop and one veteran cop’s sister—are running straight into the heart of the chaos to learn more, for reasons. This curiosity gets them stuck in a monster-infested police station full of weapons, ammo, puzzles, and healing herbs.
That setup should sound painfully familiar to series fans, but it’s not a note-for-note retread. RE2‘s twists and divergences from the 1998 source material are welcome, including brand-new dialogue and voice acting, though it’s worth noting that the result isn’t a character-driven drama on par with RE7‘s creepy family. Still, the most important shift from the 1998 game comes from the police station itself. Here, Capcom either reimagines the original game’s most familiar scenes or invents entirely new ones, to creepy effect.
Part of that boils down to the incredible tech on display, fueled by Capcom’s proprietary RE Engine. Where that engine was optimized in RE7 for comfortable, fluid visuals in a VR headset, RE2 cranks its atmospheric effects into overdrive. Realistically baked lights, dazzling water effects (whether dripping as shiny particles of rain or gushing as a flood in a creepy room), judicious use of particle-loaded clouds of smoke and fog, and stretchy, gooey effects on bullet-ravaged zombies: we’re teetering on the edge of what current-gen consoles can muster, and RE2 should already enjoy a cozy spot in a year-end, “best graphics of 2019” list.
What’s more, the PC version is arguably Capcom’s most flexible GPU-buster yet, and its settings menu teems with options, tweaks, and even Capcom’s own explanations and suggestions. (It’s right up there with the very solid menus found in last year’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.) Our testing rig, equipped with an RTX 2080 and i7-8770K, could leave most settings at near-max quality and resolution at 90 percent of 4K, while sticking to a largely locked 60fps refresh.
You’ll still get a helluva looker on any standard or “pro” console this generation, but all console versions ship without getting near 60fps. This isn’t a twitchy shooter by any stretch, so you’ll get by, but Capcom deserves a ton of credit for letting PC players easily tweak their way to 60fps without sacrificing the RE Engine’s most atmospheric stuff.
A new perspective
You’ll be forgiven for expecting something twitchier, thanks to the game’s shift in perspective. Whereas RE2 originally shipped on PS1 with pre-rendered “cinematic” camera angles, this year’s model hangs the camera behind players’ shoulders.
Capcom makes the most of this perspective shift by laying the lighting effects on thick. Wherever you peek and turn, expect a significant shadow-and-light contrast bonanza, fueled in part by the flashlight that your hero (either Leon Kennedy or Claire Redfield) wields most of the time. Every dark room and hallway is framed elegantly so that you’ll constantly see something newly gorgeous or terrifying by aiming your flashlight at a different sliver of cramped space ahead.
This camera perspective was first popularized in Resident Evil 4, but that game opted for open, gray-sky environs between its cabins and underground scenes. Capcom has finally married this action-oriented perspective with the tighter, creepier corridors of the series’ first era. You might expect a nightmare of unoptimized cameras, like in PS1 games that constantly rejigger the view to random behind-the-back points, but Capcom makes these worries melt away with nimble camera management. That’s helped by a solid control suite, tuned for fast turns and quick, smooth aiming.
As a result, RE2 never intentionally hamstrings your ability to easily look at or run through its most claustrophobic moments. This game delivers a front-row seat to some of the creepiest vistas ever in a game, and it makes players feel like they’re in control of a “cinematic” view, instead of forcing pre-rendered angles.
Back to the storage locker
Yet all of that positive stuff is still draped over familiar ’90s adventure tropes. RE2 leads players through a sprawling, multi-path police estate, but the gameplay is ultimately quite linear. Every sequence can be described as follows: go to the one or two open paths available at a given moment. Find a new barrier and a new “key item.” Go back to a previously blocked zone and use that key item to open a path or get a new item. Use what you’ve found to go back to the last barrier you discovered. Fear for your virtual life in the process. And repeat.
Conveniently, when you return in back-tracking fashion to a room you’ve been to before, perhaps to unlock a safe or solve a puzzle, a new door, window, or vent will usually have opened. This ensures that you will at least face the fear of encountering some new, terrible zombie scourge, even if one doesn’t appear. (One probably will appear. Or three.)
This backtracking is made as tedious as ever by inventory management. Players can only carry eight distinct items at a time to start, and each slot can be hogged by a single weapon, a single herb, a key item, a giant stack of ammo, etc. It doesn’t take long to add a few more slots, and on “normal” difficulty, this excludes the “typewriter ink” needed to save your game. (Ink only factors in if you pick “hard” difficulty.)
But it’s still a thing to deal with, clearly intended to make players feel weak and hobbled when they’re forced to leave health or ammo supplies behind. But many of the game’s stretches come with an abundance of items and a lack of zombie interruptions once a wave of baddies is cleared. Thus, an average player can expect to go through a major path, pick up key items, run back to a storage locker, dump certain items, go back to their previous path, grab the rest of the items, return again to a storage locker, dump more items, shuffle inventory, and head to the next objective.
Is that better than having any return to a “cleared” zone be artificially altered by magically generating zombies? Not necessarily. But while some of the game’s backtracking cleverly forces players to deal with surprises, much of it doesn’t. That is a glaring miss in a game full of mostly solid center-mass hits.
Beep, bark, crap
Did I mention the sound design? Goodness, the sound design. A quarter of the ambient sounds are tried-and-true horror game staples—creaking floorboards, growling zombies, wild rainstorms—but the majority of the soundscape is filled with diabolically weird stuff. Ambient synthesizer tones, frequency tricks, inexplicable mechanical whirls, distorted heavy breathing: this game’s audio universe is pretty close to peerless.
And then there’s the matter of the game gleefully owning its predictability. Take a sequence in which players must retrieve a variety of mechanical parts to open a door. One path, to a “generator room,” is marked on the map, and to get to it, you have to go through a “kennel room.” As in, the home of the crazed zombie dogs you just met before finding that map. Sure enough, you have to tiptoe past a row of conveniently locked cages, full of psychotic zombie mutts.
Get to the generator room, and you’ll find what you need—but the act of finding it loudly unlocks a door. Amid a ringing alarm, you realize you’re trapped in a dead-end, where the only way out is back through the kennel room. Whose cages have all just unlocked.
Beep, beep, beep.
Bark, bark, bark.
Crap, crap, CRAP.
The panicked run that follows, sung to the tune of “there are way more dogs and zombies than there are bullets in my gun,” is one of the game’s many pitch-perfect moments of terror, the kind that horror buffs will drool over no matter what tedium it takes to reach them. And those fans will need to really savor RE2‘s highs, because they’re met with a good number of been-there-done-that lows.
Backtracking, fetch quests, and serviceable boss fights see Capcom leaving much of the game in the “just good enough” pile (and, honestly, padding each runthrough’s 12-hour time estimate). RE2 is by no means a modern reinvention of the horror wheel, unlike the jaw-dropping success of RE7 or the creeping-dread experimentation of Konami’s P.T.
Instead, it’s as good of a stopgap horror game as we’re likely to see for some time. Capcom has made the welcome decision of marrying existing plot, concept, and mechanics with an abundance of polish—and not overselling the results. If that sounds good enough to you, prepare to enjoy RE2‘s equal mix of comfort and spine-tingling discomfort.
- It’s early for a year-end best-of call, but RE2 will likely hold up in terms of visuals and sound design
- Welcome new twists attached to a familiar setting
- Smooth camera and controls somehow mesh perfectly with cramped, claustrophobic settings
- The moments where Capcom toys with expectations and delivers memorable insanity
- Backtracking and item fetching have been streamlined a tad, but they still break the flow and the fun
- Won’t reinvent the horror-gaming wheel
- Entrails, body parts, and splayed-out zombie bodies. Capcom doesn’t eff around with the ooey-gooey gore
Verdict: The modern-aesthetic upgrade more than makes up for the game’s lowest lows. Horror fans should immediately buy.